The goal of the project is to define the antigen presentation and T cell recognition mechanisms responsible for the activation of myelin-specific CD4 T cells in MS. During this funding period, the Pi's lab determined the crystal structure of the first human autoimmune TCR and identified an unusual TCR binding topology. Biochemical studies demonstrated a low affinity interaction of this TCR with its self-peptide/MHC complex, consistent with the suboptimal binding mode observed in the structure. Such a suboptimal binding mode may facilitate escape from tolerance induction in the thymus and periphery because the relevant antigen presenting cells express limiting quantities of self-antigen. Transgenic mice that express this TCR and the human MHC restriction element nevertheless develop spontaneous autoimmunity at a high incidence, indicating that these T cells have recognition/signaling mechanisms that at least partially compensate for the altered TCR interaction with self-peptide/MHC. Imaging studies demonstrated substantial differences in the organization of immunological synapses formed by two different myelin-specific human T cell clones compared to two anti-viral T cell clones. During the next funding period, we will determine how the altered TCR recognition properties affect the formation of immunological synapses and resulting signaling events.
In Aim 1, we will define the mechanisms of immunological synapse formation by examining the kinetics of synapse formation, the recruitment of key signaling molecules, the duration of signaling as well as the mechanisms that terminate signaling by TCR internalization. Our hypothesis is that the suboptimal TCR binding properties delay TCR transport to the synapse center where TCR is internalized, thus extending the duration of the initially weaker activation signal.
In Aim 2, we will examine how these changes quantitatively modify the contribution of particular signaling pathways in self-reactive versus anti-viral T cells, with the goal of identifying signaling molecules that are critical for the activation of self-reactive T cells but dispensable for anti-viral T cells.
In Aim 3, we will examine whether tolerance can nevertheless be induced for such T cells by targeted delivery of the self-peptide via an antibody-peptide fusion protein to lymph node stromal cells specialized in peripheral tolerance.
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